2015 Stellar Seven

The CITAMS (CITASA) Stellar Seven 2015

by Barry Wellman

The CITASA Best Paper Committee kvelled. We had so many good papers! Not only were they good, they were diverse in theory, method, and content. And they all have been published in fine journals. While we picked an official winner and Honorable Mentions – you’ll get that news elsewhere – we wanted to share with you the Stellar Seven. As they are all winning pieces of scholarship, we wanted to bring them to your attention. Not only is each an elegant article, taken together they show the exciting panoply of work that we’re doing. Here are summaries (often using the papers’ own words) to guide your reading and research pleasure, listed in alphabetical order by first author. CITASA is doing great stuff. We hope this summarization of stellar nominees—be they seven or some other number—becomes an annual tradition.

Centola, Damon and Andrea Baronchelli.  2015. “The Spontaneous Emergence of Conventions: An Experimental Study of Cultural Evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). “The Spontaneous Emergence of Conventions: An Experimental Study of Cultural Evolution.” 112, 7 (February): 1989-94. Theories of the evolution of social conventions have been hindered by the difficulty of evaluating the creation of new collective behaviors in large decentralized populations. The authors present results of controlled experiments. Their basis is Wittgenstein’s proposal that repeated interactions produces collective agreement among a pair of actors. The experimental trials varied in social network structure. Participants (recruited from the Web) were rewarded for coordinating locally, but they did not have either incentive or information to achieve large scale agreement. The results show that “changes in network connectivity can cause global social conventions to spontaneously emerge from local interactions, even though people have no knowledge…that they are coordinating at a global scale.”


Chen, Wenhong. 2013. “The Implications of Social Capital for the Digital Divides in America.” The Information Society, 29: 13-25. Does social capital in Time 1 predict digital divides in Time 2? Uses a large 2-wave over-time panel study to show how social networks/social capital facilitates internet access and use. Position generator survey data identified the Rs’ higher & lower status network connections. Bonding capital was indicated by the number of occupations in which R knew someone via a strong tie; bridging capital by the number of occupations in which R knew someone via a weak tie. Although bridging capital is positively associated with Internet access, the average resources available via bonding capital are the most versatile, positively related to internet access, general use, and online communication. “Before the Internet can revitalize social capital, there must be the right social capital in place to close the digital divides.” [see also Laura Robinson’s article]


Davis, Jenny. 2014. “Triangulating the Self: Identity Processes in a Connected Era.” Symbolic Interaction 37, 4: 500-23.  With the self comprised of multiple social identities in a “networked era”, people negotiate identities and strike “a presentational balance between ideal and authentic.” Uses 1:1 in-person interviews (N=17) and synchronous text exchanges (N=32) from a snowballing generated from the author’s own Facebook network. Finds three key interaction conditions: “fluidity between digital and physical, expectations of accuracy, and overlapping social networks….Social actors accomplish the ideal-authentic balance through self-triangulation, presenting a coherent image in multiple arenas and through multiple media.” Self-triangulation has two aspects: “networked logic”—individuals’ seamless incorporation of multiple media into “performative practices”; “preemptive action”—the proactive “decision to engage in some act within one arena primarily as a means to support performances in other arenas.”


Hampton, Keith, Lauren Sessions Goulet, and Garrett Albanesius. 2015. “Change in the Social Life of Urban Public Spaces: The Rise of Mobile Phones and Women, and the Decline of Aloneness Over Thirty Years”. Urban Studies. 52(8): 1489-1504. Americans have become less socially isolated using public spaces than a generation ago, due in part to using mobile devices. The study is based on comparing videos of the same public spaces that William H Whyte’s team filmed in 1969+.  It uses detailed coding from NYC and Philadelphia of the behavior and characteristics of 143,593 observations, then and now. The most dramatic change has been an increase in the proportion of women in public spaces, and a corresponding increase in the tendency of men and women to spend time together in public. The rate of mobile phone use in public is small, especially in groups. Mobile phone use occurs somewhat more often in public spaces where people might otherwise be walking alone. This suggests that mobile phone use is associated with reduced public isolation and with an increased likelihood of lingering in public. We note that The New York Times Magazine has already run a feature story about this research: Mark Oppenheimer, “Technology Is Not Driving Us Apart After All”: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/magazine/technology-is-not-driving-us-apart-after-all.html?_r=0


Lewis, Kevin. 2013. “The Limits of Racial Prejudice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) 110, 47 (November), 18814–19. Uses a very large sample of interactions on online dating site OKCupid to find that daters from all racial backgrounds are equally or more likely to cross racial boundaries when reciprocating rather than initiating dating contact. Further, finds that daters who have received a cross-race message are more likely to initiate their own interracial exchange, although the effect trails off quickly and varies according to several factors, including the racial background of the original sender. Findings illuminate the ongoing production of racial segregation in romantic networks through interactive choices as well as point toward mechanisms whereby such underlying biases may be reduced.


Robinson, Laura. 2014. “Endowed, Entrepreneurial, and Empowered-Strivers: Doing a Lot with a Lot, Doing a Lot with a Little.” Information, Communication & Society 17, 5: 521-36.   Uses 1:1 and focus group in-person interviews with California high school students to show how access to or deprivation from information resources influences how students synthesize information for school. “Endowed-Strivers” with a synergistic access to information resources have a self-reliant habitus. “Entrepreneurial-Strivers” with few home resources rely on others. “Empowered-Strivers” benefit from school-based interventions that provide multiple information channels: they develop more self-reliance. The “relationships between access conditions, information opportunity structures, and types of information habitus…show how the synergistic use of informational resources plays a critical role in larger digital inequalities.” [see also Wenhong Chen’s article}.


Van de Rijt, Arnout, Soong Moon Kang, Michael Restivo, and Akshay Patil. 2014. “Field Experiments of Success-Breeds-Success Dynamics.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS 111, 19 May): 6934-6939. Why do similar individuals have different degrees of success? Randomized experiments through interventions in Kickstarter, change.org, Wikipedia, and epinions.org show that “different kinds of success (money, quality ratings, awards, and endorsements)” all improved subsequent rates of success. There were limits to this as “greater amounts of initial success failed to produce much greater subsequent success.”


CITASA has a bright future: all of the authors are mid-career or younger. Taken together, these articles make a great reading list. They show the use of CITASA’s work on a variety of fields: norms, social capital, symbolic interaction, urban, gender, race, teens, and social psychology. The papers all come from solid journals. Yet, none of the mainstreamers with “social” or “sociological” in their titles appear. Those laggards will catch on some day.